Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.
This Intrepid Journey sees comedian Rhys Darby taking a Rwandan OE. In the excerpts Darby makes lots of friends in the markets of capital city Kigali, then heads on a jungle adventure. Far from the New York office of his Flight of the Conchords character Murray, he searches for critically endangered mountain gorillas. Darby is guided by François — a personable and entertaining park ranger, fluent in primate dialect — whose aping gives Darby a run for his money in gorilla impersonation. Darby is quietened by a sombre genocide memorial, and a 200 kilogram silverback.
This documentary tells the tenuous survivor story of the kākāpō: the nocturnal flightless green parrot with "big sideburns and Victorian gentlemen's face" (as comedian Stephen Fry put it). A sole breeding population for the evolutionary oddity (the world's largest parrot; it can live up to 120 years) is marooned on remote Codfish Island. The award-winning film had rare access to the recovery programme and its dramatic challenges. This excerpt sees a rugged journey to the island to search for a kākāpō named 'Bill', and witnesses the "bizarre ballad" of its mating boom.
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt ventures into the wilds of Borneo for this full-length Intrepid Journeys episode. His time in the jungles of Malaysia's Sabah region proves to be both beautiful and frightening; his sleeping arrangements are "pure unadulterated hell". After pushing himself to the limit climbing Mount Kinabalu and encountering a lethal pit viper snake, Shadbolt is moved by visits to sea turtles on Turtle Island, and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok. Orangutans are endangered in the area because they are losing their forest habitat to palm oil plantations.
Aotearoa's wildlife and unique landscape provided the inspiration for Meet the Locals, a partnership between TVNZ and the Department of Conservation. The series ran for six seasons from 2007, most of them on digital channel TVNZ 6 (then on TVNZ 7 for its final season). The four-minute episodes saw DOC staff doing everything from visiting a range of animals and snorkelling in marine reserves, to tramping and taking kids out on trips to the great outdoors. Nicola Toki (née Vallance) presented the series until 2010; later James Reardon and Les Judd took the reins.
This full-length documentary looks at the grim reality of our fast-disappearing national symbol, and the efforts of people passionate about saving it. Remarkable facts about the evolutionary oddity are framed by the point that “the nation which laments that the moa was wiped out is committing the same crime against the kiwi”. The film raises the unsettling question: do we want the stoat or kiwi as our national icon? It also makes a compelling call to action to save a unique taonga, which could be extinct from the mainland in 20 years.
A kārearea named Fern handles the storytelling duties in this child-friendly documentary about New Zealand’s only falcon. Fern (voiced by ex Māori TV newsreader Kimiora Kaire-Melbourne) introduces some of the other kārearea who live at the Marlborough Falcon Trust, then brings out her human friend Diana, who sadly “can’t fly yet”. Fern and Diana meet a group of children and show them the aerobatics of Aotearoa’s only endemic raptor species, while talking about the threats the falcons face. The trust aims to ensure the endangered birds have a future.
This wee gem from the 60s Sunday night magazine show records a pivotal New Zealand conservation moment. Wildlife Service ranger Don Merton experiments with rescue techniques to save the endangered North Island saddleback (tieke), a wattlebird surviving on Hen Island. Aided by electronics expert John Kendrick (of National Radio bird call fame) he uses calls to lure the spry birds into mist nets before moving the precious cargo to cat-free Cuvier Island. The world-leading skills developed here were to be crucial in saving the black robin and kakapo from extinction.
This 76-minute documentary looks at efforts to restore the mauri (life spirit) of Northland's Lake Omapere, a large fresh water lake — and taonga to the Ngāpuhi people — made toxic by pollution. Simon Marler's film offers a timely challenge to New Zealand's 100% Pure branding, and an argument for kaitiakitanga (guardianship) that respects ecological and spiritual well-being. There is spectacular footage of the lake's endangered long-finned eel. Barry Barclay in Onfilm called the film "powerful, sobering". It screened at the 2008 National Geographic All Roads Film Festival.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and the film won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. The box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on New Zealand tourism.